1 & 2 Kings (NIVAC) by Konkel

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Professor August H. Konkel produced this commentary on 1&2 Kings in the New International Version Application Commentary (NIVAC) series. Its greatest strength lies in what the series itself aims at: application for our day. Without doubt, the scholarship that undergirds the work is solid, but the scholarly issues that he makes his focus might be less helpful than if he had, say, dove more deeply in the structure or broad themes of the book.

In fact, it is in the introduction that this becomes clear. Perhaps I overgeneralize, but he makes the theme of his introduction that of the Books of Kings being Deuteronomic history.  That emphasis almost exclusively thinks in terms of genre and composition. Even his review of the “prophetic character of Kings” is viewed from that rubric. I feel that there are clearly better options to serve as an overall guide for Kings. If you are of his mind, you will probably rank this volume as “great”.

Despite that caveat, I still can fully recommend this book for its commentary and application. Maybe I’m crazy, but somehow he reminded me of John Walton who has also written in this series. The book increases in value, too, when you consider how few volumes guide us in that last link of the chain called application.

For the record, what was slightly annoying in the introduction was in no way overwhelming in the commentary proper. I should stress again that the scholarship itself is well done. I see much evidence of careful study and thoughtful reflection. He is never trite or trivial, so you will get plenty of needed help for this often-neglected portion of Scripture.

While there are a few volumes in the NIVAC series that I enjoyed a little more, this commentary is a solid effort that I without hesitation recommend for your library.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Colossians & Philemon (BECNT) by G.K. Beale

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Veteran commentator G. K. Beale strikes gold in this commentary on Colossians and Philemon in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT) series. From the onset, Beale explains that he hopes to make a distinct contribution to Old Testament allusions in Colossians (Philemon has too few to really qualify). Strangely enough, though he handles those allusions with care and thoughtfulness, it is the exegesis itself that compels me to rate it highly. The well-reasoned conservative conclusions, the passion for Scripture, and the guidance offered throughout are what most stands out in this newly released commentary. He will tell you what other scholars have thought yet has a knack for interacting without endlessly droning on. At 500 pages it is not as bulky as some of the modern exegetical commentaries but it still delivers everything that you’re looking for regarding exegesis. Scholars will be quoting it in the future while pastors can use it practically for real help with the text.

His introduction to Colossians first addresses authorship. As you are probably aware, a certain segment of scholarship has been attempting to take Colossians away from Paul for many years. I loved how Beale fairly addresses the arguments for all non-Pauline positions while knocking the props out from under them with the skill that only a seasoned commentator could muster. To my mind, he could be a template for any of the Pauline epistles that are questioned or attributed to pseudonymity.  Next, he well explains the background both of the letter and its historical setting. He proves that he is, in fact, going to be dedicated to working out all the Old Testament allusions to be found in the letter. He mentions the relationship of Colossians to Ephesians and provides a detailed outline of the book. Perhaps the weakest aspect of this introduction is that of structure. Pretty much he just shares the divisions that some other prominent scholars propose.

The commentary itself is excellent. Again, there’s real help on every passage. Just in case you’re not as interested in his beloved Old Testament allusions as he is, he kindly provides those as additional notes at the end of every section.  I checked several passages that I had either studied a great deal or knew might be controversial and really appreciated his contributions.

Though I preferred his Colossians to his Philemon, he did offer some real help both in the short introduction and commentary on Philemon.

This commentary immediately becomes a Top-3 commentary for what’s available today on Colossians and Philemon.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Hearers & Doers by Kevin Vanhoozer

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Kevin Vanhoozer is one of our sharpest theological minds today. He so often breaks into territory that no one else tackles. He may wrestle with a multitude of heavy theological works, but he is the guy to bring it to the rest of us. Since his latest subject here is that of making disciples, particularly from a pastor’s point of view, and since there’s a glut in the market on discipleship, he shows the league apart that he works in amongst a world of works that all say the same thing. Make room among all the dime-a-dozen discipleship titles on your shelves for this provocative volume to have a prominent place. This book is one for a pastor to lay as a foundation for our work. The subtitle accurately lets you know what you are getting yourself into: A pastor’s guide to making disciples through Scripture and doctrine.

After a clear introduction, Part One that is made up of four chapters explains why discipleship matters. He champions the importance of theology in making disciples. Chapter 2 is so profound that it could be pulled out of this book and presented as commentary on our age, at least involving fitness and body image which has taken on its own religious pretensions. I shared that chapter with some in my family as making clear things that I was ashamed I had never thought of. The next chapters explain the importance of taking disciples from hearing to doing and in building up the body of Christ.

Part Two in four more chapters digs into working out discipleship. Pastors should be challenged by his analogy of our being the eye doctor and general practitioner of the church. Next, he looks at the disciple as a member of the church, which is sadly so de-emphasized in our day. I found myself not fully agreeing with all he said in the chapter on the communion of saints, but there are some fair correctives there that may keep us from running off into the other ditch. The final chapter, wisely, looks at us as children of God who are disciples as “fitting image of Jesus Christ”.

You can often judge how much I find value in a book by how much I underline and notate throughout. My volume of this book is marked all over with usually something on every page. This book is for those who want to think, so pick it up and read slowly and you will be in for a treat.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Romans 9-16 (RCS), edited by Philip and Peter Krey

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Romans 9 is one of the key chapters of Reformation thinking, so this volume covering chapters 9-16 is pivotal in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS) series. Since this volume has been released, an additional volume covering Romans 1-8 has also come out giving us an extraordinary resource in Reformation views on this key book of the New Testament. In this volume (9-16), two Lutheran professors, who happen to be brothers, Philip D. W. Krey and Peter D. S. Krey, culled all of Reformation commentaries to create this fine resource. These two were even raised by a Lutheran pastor, so they have lived in Reformation thinking their entire lives. They certainly have the credentials to assemble this volume of the best that Reformation commentators have to offer. To my mind, they have succeeded.

Their introduction to Romans 9-16 shows their understanding of the issues that were at the heart of Reformation thinking. In our day, many of us would label those views as Calvinist views, though they give the most kudos to Augustine and Luther. They do, however, quote Calvin in several places throughout the commentary itself. It’s clear these editors agree with those they quote in many cases. In that introduction, they will speak of predestination, double predestination, single predestination and offer an excursus on Erasmus and the freedom of the will as well as opposing views that they label as conditional predestination. Still, they get into other key issues that they label the call of the nations, the ministry of the word, and Christian ethics. All in all, it was well done.

The commentary itself is of the quality that I have so far found in every volume in this series that I have reviewed. There is likely an overabundance of primary material to sift through with corresponding choices to be made for what best represents Reformation thinking to share in this volume, but they appear to me to have done an excellent job. I feel one could easily get a full grasp of what the reformers thought about most passages in Romans 9-16 in this compilation. If you grab the one that’s now released on Romans 1-8, you will have a resource well worth having and consulting for this mountain peak of Scripture called Romans.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Franklin Pierce by Michael Holt (Presidential Bio. Series)

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I must confess that I knew almost nothing about Franklin Pierce before I read this biography written by Michael F. Holt in The American Presidents Series. This book was pitched perfectly. Its length and depth were ideal for this less significant president. As you may be aware, he is in a stretch of Presidents who often fight over being our worst one. This book told me all the broad details of his life that I needed to know and surprisingly succeeded in its few pages to dig into what made Pierce tick. Some volumes in this series are a complete dud, but I’m happy to have found this volume to be my choice for a biography of Pres. Pierce. To my mind, his presidency could fairly be called a failure while Pierce himself would’ve been far more interesting to meet than, say, John Tyler or James Buchanan. Though he was far too caught up into politics to have ever been a visionary, he does come across as sincere.

Franklin Pierce did succeed in his home state of New Hampshire in various offices. He rose through the ranks at an incredible rate and became the political power of his state. He had a near obsession with the Democratic Party that the author well exposes. The more I read about presidents in this era the more I’ve come to believe that they had little chance to succeed. We often think of the country dividing along sectional lines between the North and the South, but there was an equal division between Democrats and a succession of Whigs/Know-Nothings/Republicans. If you survey the election results from these years, you will see that they did not divide along the Mason-Dixon line. Much like our day, some states leaned more toward one party or the other with an occasional flipping. New Hampshire was the most democratic state in the Northeast and Pierce did everything he could to keep it that way. It was, however, true that some of Franklin Pierce’s decisions help solidify our country finally dividing between the North and the South.

What is inexplicable about Pierce was his dedication to the South. To be honest, since he was from the north, it makes no sense to me at all. You might find a few clues in him forging some strong friendships with Southerners and that his interest in the success of the Democratic Party was far more important to him that how the issue of slavery turned out. Historians will always label Pierce as being on the wrong side of that issue. I don’t think he was proslavery, but he was going to protect his friends and acquaintances that stood with him in earlier political battles. Another mistake that he made was not accepting the new direction of the North even in how they viewed Lincoln who followed him. He openly criticized Lincoln at times and also tried to support Jefferson Davis during his trial for treason after the Civil War. Again, it seemed to be nothing other than he would be true to his old friends. That kind of thinking will probably keep your friendships strong, but it may destroy your historical standing.

As with several other presidents, it’s hard to pin down where Pierce was regarding Christianity. The author paints Pierce as the poster child of an 1800s party animal in his youth. While that may have been true, he married a very religious woman. She was no social bug either. Still, he seemed to adore her. He curtailed his drinking and stuck by her through several health crises. There are not a lot of other facts to go on, but the author relates casually that one time Pierce detested working on the Sabbath while he was president. When his wife died shortly after his presidency ended, he started drinking some again. The author insinuates that he married his second wife for money, but they appear to have had a good relationship too though he spent more time alone during those years. He still had his demons and alcoholism finally destroyed his health and ended his life. Though the author never said, I can’t help but wonder if the obvious failings of his presidency though he genuinely meant to do what he thought best led him to discouragement. All in all, he was probably a far better person that he was a president.


For others in this series, look here.

Leviticus, Numbers (NIVAC) by Roy Gane

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This volume on Leviticus and Numbers by Roy Gane is easily one of the best in the NIVAC series. While the value of Leviticus in this book might surpass that of Numbers in my estimation, you will receive real help on both. The writing is so engaging, the passion so evident, and rather than apologize for the Bible Mr. Gane wisely counsels us to put our own modern culture on trial. On more than one occasion, he finds that we ultimately struggle with the same problems they once did. If the goal of the NIVAC series is to provide a scholarly explanation of the text and then take it on to modern application, then this volume has succeeded in spades. I can’t recall what is admonished in Leviticus ever having been more profitably related to our day than what you will find here.

I was thoroughly impressed with all that was nicely explained in the 13 pages of the introduction to Leviticus. The big picture, the relationship to the New Testament, and a careful case made for Leviticus being something more than legalism was made clear. There’s a brief pass at authorship (God, then mostly Moses) before an exceptional section on structure and themes. I’ve read many thick exegetical commentaries that were far less helpful on structure than what you find here. I felt the introduction to Numbers was not as well-done as that of Leviticus, but what you read there is all helpful.

The best value of all will be found in his explanation of the details of Leviticus. Without doubt, many struggle here. Again, it appears that the normal design of a NIVAC commentary (original meaning, bridging context, and contemporary significance) fit Mr. Gane like a glove. Some commentaries in this series will often either shortchange bridging context or contemporary significance, but I was pleasantly surprised to find something truly helpful in every one of those sections. The volume was more conservative than I expected while the engaging style exceeded any expectations I would’ve had for a volume on Leviticus! If you would like to see if I am reviewing accurately, find some obscure subject in Leviticus and go read what Mr. Gane has to say about it. If you will do that, you will agree with me.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

American History–A New 2-volume set by Thomas Kidd

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Are you like me and have become disgusted with most books today that attempt to teach American history? Do you suppose that most young Americans who are wrapping up their educational years really have no idea of the incredible history of our country? There are some excellent titles floating around on specific incidents in American history, but those that could be used as a textbook are often either lacking or skewed beyond recognition. That’s why I am happy to see this two-volume set come out by Thomas S. Kidd. He has written several historical biographies including those of Christians who have impacted our history. To my mind, he was the perfect person to step up and produce this set.

The balance with which he writes is refreshing for history. He’s never afraid of Christianity, nor does he ever obscure it in our history. On the other hand, he doesn’t make it Christian where it’s not, though he often does describe how Christians have viewed particular historical incidences. For my money, that approach is ideal.

You can always quibble the amount of coverage one event gets compared to another in a book of this type, but he did as well as anyone could do. The visual quality of the work is excellent as well. The pictures are well chosen, attractive, and yet not so prevalent as to give us a skimpy text. Perhaps my only criticism is that this title might have been better presented in a hardback. Rarely do I mention in a review the choice between hardback or paperback, but for some reason, this looks like it should have been a hardback. Still, the covers for each volume in the set are gorgeous.

This set would easily be my choice to recommend for an American history textbook today. I should add, too, that homeschooling parents would do themselves a favor to check out this title for their high school students. Because of where we are today, I believe that if many high school and college students used this set it would be a boon to our society. It’s what we’ve needed for a long time.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Write Better by Andrew T. Le Peau

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When I heard this book was coming out, I was immediately intrigued. There’s plenty of places where you can read about how to write better, but when someone whose life work is editing Christian titles, some of which I’ve read myself, decides to tell me how to write better I’m ready to listen. Andrew Le Peau gave 40 years to editing IVP titles. Along the way, he wrote a commentary on Mark’s gospel that I found fascinating before I even realized he was an editor of other books I had read. Since I knew I would be writing a review before I cracked open this book, I found something of a perverse grin come across my face as I thought I would have to examine his writing as he was telling me how to write better!

Let me, then, dispense with the question of whether this book that offers to be my guide was itself well written. It was. Strangely enough, imagine how easy it would be to fall into a dry writing style to explain something as technical as writing. He wrote so well, in fact, that now I’m going to always wonder if IVP publishes great writers or if editors like Mr. Le Peau just make them appear so. In any event, I’d be happy to write at the level of Mr. Le Peau and so am happy to consider all suggestions he makes for the craft of writing.

He divides his book into three parts: the craft of writing, the art of writing, and the spirituality of writing. He covers everything. Whether it be big picture ideas like knowing your audience or understanding persuasion or whether it be the smaller details like grammatical rules, he guides us with a deft hand. Every suggestion he offers made sense to me. He not only tells you the what but provides the why. Further, he is keenly aware of what’s important if you are writing a spiritual work.

This book manages to accomplish two feats: how to write better and how to publish. That is not to say that the book is in any way unfocused, just that the two are closely tied together and he knows the ropes for both. Still, if you had no intention of publishing and only wanted to write better for a blog or some other project, this book will be a magnificent help to you.

It would be unhelpful for me to drop more details from the book into this review, but I can say it’s the best book on writing that I’ve come across in more than 20 years. If this book can’t help you be a better writer, you must not be trying.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Millard Fillmore by Robert Rayback (Presidential Bio. Series)

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Millard Fillmore is usually relegated to a dusty list of our forgotten presidents. Admittedly, most are hard-pressed to name any of our presidents between Jackson and Lincoln (well, maybe Polk has a few fans). To make it worse, Fillmore has been summarily dismissed as the ultimate underachiever. After reading this biography by Robert Rayback, I’m wondering if historians have been a little too unkind to Fillmore. While it’s true that Rayback greatly admired Fillmore and perhaps cast events in the best light possible, I did feel that many of the facts were on Rayback’s side.

While I have no illusions that Fillmore was one of our presidential greats, he does appear to be a likable person, especially when compared to one of his irascible predecessors, John Tyler. He held principles on several occasions where personalities involved caused him to want to go another direction. He was an effective legislator before he became president and was perhaps more suited to that role. He was more adept at compromise and order than he was at either possessing or casting vision. Any record of the short-lived Whig party cannot deny his importance to its history. Somehow, he came through successfully the rough-and-tumble backroom battles of his party without being as cutthroat as many of his colleagues.

Most negative modern analysis of Fillmore stems from his part in the Compromise of 1850. That is somewhat unfair on two fronts: a desire to solve the slavery question without war was obviously appealing at the time and the reading of the convictions of our day onto the past without regard for the context of those times. Since war came a decade later anyway and destroyed slavery in the process, it knocks the luster off what many across the spectrum thought worthwhile at the time. Did, however, the nation progress in that decade to be more able to accept the demise of slavery? Since we can be sure of completely different leadership on both the Union and Confederate sides in this prior decade, are we confident that we would’ve had the same result had it burst out in 1850? Maybe I put more stock in the providence of God than most readers, but it appears to me that the vastly different events of 1850 and 1861 were ultimately for the best.

In reading these presidential biographies, I’ve made a point to check out the religious background of these men. I’m aware that the outlook of the biographer can add an unfortunate layer to what I find. Rayback explains how Fillmore joined the Unitarian church prior to becoming president. He further explains that although Fillmore did not appear to attend church much before this move to the Unitarian church, he became quite faithful afterward. It does appear to me that the author has made a mistake in describing Unitarians more as they are today than they were in Fillmore’s time. Some other American characters widely known for their Christianity were, in fact, Unitarians in those days. Mrs. Fillmore was the daughter of a Baptist pastor and was raised in the Baptist Church. The author is probably correct in explaining that Fillmore did not join the Methodist Church, which was quite zealous in those days, even though he had family members in it. The Unitarian church probably matched his more genteel ways, but it seems altogether possible that Fillmore was a Christian. We may never know for sure.

Since this biography was written 60 years ago, I dreaded a dry writing style. Since presidential biographies have attracted some of the best writers of our day in the last few decades, it’s easy to become spoiled. To be sure, Rayback is no McCullough or Chernow, but I thought his pages flowed easily and were pleasant to read. Even though the book was well written and Fillmore was likely a better president that he’s often given credit for, I’m still of the opinion that 250 pages would have likely been enough for his life. Since I’ve heard that the volume in The American Presidents series is a complete disaster, I’m glad I read Rayback’s take on Fillmore.

For more in this series, look here.